Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Cheat The Gallows
Review by Nightwatcher
Featuring a majestic, 70's inspired stoner rock vibe which blends early Black Sabbath styled riffs with the more progressive sounds of The Beatles, Deep Purple and Pink Floyd, over the course of 3 long players and a couple of EP's, Los Angeles based rockers Bigelf have solidified themselves as one of the leading lights of heavy rock in the present age. Also, one you most likely have never heard, as amazingly for a Californian band, up until the re-issue of their latest masterpiece, 'Hex,' all were only released in Europe, with the aforementioned actually reaching the Top 5 in the Swedish album charts. Well, the band is back with their latest offering, the epic concept album, 'Cheat The Gallows,' a collection which shows the band stretching out musically and artistically past anything they've previously put out and then some.
This one took me a few listens to really get into compared to their earlier albums, but damn if it isn't good. Bombastic? Yes. Almost preposterous at times? Yes. Pretentious? Yes, most certainly. But honestly I can't remember the last time I've heard an album such as this. It's definitely an anomaly in today's music scene, and I don't know which audience is going to embrace it. It's way too progressive for the average metal fan, not to mention too light at times. It's too metal for the average prog listener, and too out there for the pop fan. What's amazing is that it got done at all, seeing as this is their first release for Linda Perry's Custard label.
Perry, if you're not familiar with her, used to be the lead vocalist for 4 Non Blondes, and has gone on to be hugely successful writing for and producing Gwen Stefani, Pink, Christina Aguilera and contributing to albums by Courtney Love and Kelly Osbourne. She's also responsible for signing James Blunt to Custard, so on the surface it wouldn't seem she wouldn't have much in common with these mad hatters. But she has performed with Who vocalist Roger Daltrey and produced Cheap Trick on their latest studio album 'Rockford,' so there is a rocker underneath, so there must lie the connection. Still, I don't think the label was most likely prepared for this, and it's pretty brave for her to put it out in the first place. Not many would, so kudos have to be given.
Although sometimes they seem to, with an obviously much larger budget, to be throwing everything AND the kitchen sink into some of the songs, particularly the closing track, "Counting Sheep", which has to be the most pretentious song I've heard in quite some time, it does hold together, but amidst all the weirdness, BigElf are still serious heavy rockers. The influences are still present, as one moment you'll be grooving to some Tony Iommi approved Sabbath like riff before the band completely switches direction into late Beatles/Pink Floyd/ELO territory, only to delve into some serious guitar/Hammond B-3 jamming ala Blackmore era Deep Purple. Sometimes even within the same song. Their dexterity and the talent to make it all cohesive is astonishing. In lesser hamfisted hands such an undertaking would be dreadful, but it almost all works perfectly. While I would be hesitant to call this a masterpiece just yet, it is a brave undertaking which shows plenty of experimentation. Something which has been lacking in the vast majority of rock music for quite some time, and for that the band should be praised.
The bottom line is, if you're looking for a streamlined, commercial sounding heavy rock album, you might want to think before picking this one up. However, if you dig retro 70's sounding hard rock in the vein of early Sabbath, Purple, late 60's/early 70's Pretty Things, even vintage Alice Cooper Group, with a liberal dose of Hawkwind styled freakiness thrown in, this is certainly one you should give a chance to, as it ultimately rewards the listener who has the patience to take in what the band is trying to put forth. One of my picks as a contender for album of the year. 9.5/10 www.bigelf.com